Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nobel Prize: Crowning Devils and Deviants

There was an outcry from the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing last year after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the imprisoned Chinese dissident and political activist Liu Xiaobo, who immediately dedicated it to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The communist government’s bone of contention is that by awarding the prize to Mr. Xiabo the Nobel Committee was indirectly discrediting the Chinese judicial system which has found the political activist guilty of “incitement to subversion of state power”.

This year the declaration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf among the three joint winners evoked bitter response from her political opponents and critics, with many claiming it was a conspiracy by the west to boost her re-election chances.
“She does not deserve it. She is a warmonger. She brought war on our country and spoiled the country,” Opposition leader Winston Tubman retorted during a campaign rally in the Monrovia. “Now she has said she will run again and on the eve of the election the Nobel Peace Prize committee gives her this prize, which we think is a provocative intervention within our politics”.

The Liberian chief executive has admitted that she provide supplies and to former rebel leader and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Apparently, Madame Sirleaf’s popularity among former warlords is apparently still high. Prince Johnson, a former rebel and presidential candidate in the just concluded elections with strong ties to Charles Taylor, backed Ellen-Sirleaf in the runoff which greatly bolstered her re-election bid.

But this is not the first time that a “rebel” is being awarded the coveted prize. For the last eleven decades the highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize has been bestowed upon social dissidents, deviants, maniacs, non-conformists and the so called “enemies of the state”. The winners are usually men and women who sacrificed their personal safety, dignity, career and lives at the altar of public service.
So unpopular were the beliefs and ideologies of some of the past winners that four were assassinated, among them a president and an executive prime minister. Both the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin were murdered for taking a bold step towards the realization of a lasting peace between Israeli and Arabs.

Apart from Sadat paying with his own life, the other eight incumbent presidents that have won the Nobel were deviants in their own rights since they supported policies that drastically whittled down their popularity among the electorate. Several years after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev brought end to decades of Cold War Fredrick de Klerk followed suit by bringing down the curtain on apartheid by releasing Nelson Mandela.

Long before she was named the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006, Professor Wangari Mathaai was already famous for her passionate activism against the destruction of the environment. The most famous incidence was way back in 1992 when, in a company of fellow women activists, she stripped naked in protest against the planned sale of Uhuru Park to private developers. Retired President Moi termed her a “mad woman” who was “a threat to the order and security of the country.”

Many are the times when Prof Mathai and members of her Green Belt Movement were clobbered by police for holding demonstrations against the grabbing of public land. Although she served as a member of parliament for Tetu, a constituency in her home district, she lost the seat in the 1997 General Election due to what pundits term as ideological differences with President Mwai Kibaki.

The fiery Wangare Mathaai finds a comrade in Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition doyen who was crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Suu Kyi was honoured for her tireless efforts to bring justice and democracy in the tiny Southeast Asian country that have since been renamed Union of Myanmar. Placed under house arrest by the Burmese military junta for many years, Su Kyi is referred to by admirers as the “Nelson Mandela of Asia”.

But the efforts of these two powerful women are somehow dwarfed by the humbling achievements of Mother Teresa, the founder of the now famous Missionaries of Charity based in Calcutta, India. Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in the Republic of Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa captivated the world by living among the impoverished people of this urban centre of Indian state of West Bengal despite the millions of dollars that were flooding into her charity organization. She won the Nobel Prize in 1979.
Carl von Ossietzky was among the very few members of the German civil society who dared to raise a voice against Adolf Hitler and his NAZI party in the 1930s. Being a pacifist, he was strongly opposed to the huge militarization that was going on in Germany during the time. He paid dearly for speaking his mind on the Hitler regime by being condemned into a NAZI concentration camp where he contracted a fatal bout
of tuberculosis.

Ossietzky was declared the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 while still bedridden with untreated TB that eventually claimed his life. But just like Liu Xiaobo of China, the NAZI government denied him the opportunity to collect the award in Oslo, warning him that doing so meant being stripped of his German statehood.
Although the dropout student-turned journalist never picked the award personally he was blazing defiance even from the anguish of his deathbed.

“After much consideration, I have made the decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize which has fallen to me. I cannot share the view put forward to me by the representatives of the Secret State Police that in doing so I exclude myself from German society,” he declared. “The Nobel Peace Prize is not a sign of an internal political struggle, but of understanding between peoples.”

Alfred Luthuli and Desmond Tutu, the first and second African to be bequeathed with the coveted prize, were honoured for their relentless yet peaceful campaign against apartheid rule in South Africa.

Being the ANC president Mr. Luthuli differed with the militant section of the party who were advocating for an armed struggle. In 1967, seven years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the charismatic leader died after being hit by a speeding train while taking a walk near his home in Kwazulu-Natal. However Luthuli’s supporters saw the hand of the apartheid government in his death.

A year after the mysterious death of the South African freedom fighter Martin Luther King Junior, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was shot dead as he addressed a crowd from a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.

Other notable dissidents who have graced the red carpet in Oslo to collect Alfred Nobel’s Holy Grail are Dalai Lama, Yasser Arafat, Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the award, and Mohammed ElBaradei.

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